25 August 2015
by Philip Coorey

Joe Hockey predicts repeat of 2004 election win

Revelations this week that Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, favoured by conservatives to replace Mr Abbott should there be a push, had dinner with Rupert Murdoch last week has done little to dampen internal scuttlebutt.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has shrugged off another bad poll for the government by pointing to John Howard's come-from-behind in against Mark Latham in 2004.

Mr Hockey was responding to the latest fortnightly Newspoll which, like last week's Fairfax/Ipsos poll, has the government lagging Labor by 54 per cent to 46 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.

Tony Abbott's personal ratings have slipped backwards while Bill Shorten has improved and extended his lead as preferred prime minister.

This poll deficit has basically been entrenched since the 2014 budget and, as the next election draws near, is fuelling anxiety among Coalition MPs about Mr Abbott's ability to win.

Revelations this week that Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, favoured by conservatives to replace Mr Abbott should there be a push, had dinner with Rupert Murdoch last week has done little to dampen internal scuttlebutt.

Any move on Mr Abbott would also spell the end for Mr Hockey as Treasurer.

But Mr Hockey said on Tuesday morning that voters would come back to the Coalition so long as it had a vision.

He noted that the Howard government trailed the Latham opposition by the same amount just months away from the 2004 election but won.

"In 2004, not long before we won the 2004 election, the two-party-preferred was exactly the same as it is today," he said.

"Ultimately, the Australian people will judge you...not only on what you are doing but whether you have a plan for the future."

Mr Hockey was out and about trying to further his push for income tax cuts but found himself fending off a barrage of criticism from business groups for having not detail or direction on how cuts would be funded.

'TERRIBLY REGRESSIVE'
On Monday, he left open the option of extending the GST to health to help find the $25 billion that would be needed to combat bracket creep.

Labor likened this to bringing back the discarded GP co-payment.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said the tax burden would fall disproportionately on the sickest Australians, costing patients $3 billion a year.

"It would be terribly regressive health policy to see the sickest and the poorest basically having to pay more and being punished for being sick," she told ABC Radio.

Labor leader Bill Shorten attributed the polls to the government being "one of the most incompetent since Federation".

'DEFICIT IS COMING DOWN'
Mr Hockey continued to insist the government could deliver income tax cuts and return the budget to surplus by the end of the decade.

He said the current budget picture was better than forecast in May but did not say by how much.

"The budget deficit is coming down and when I release the final budget numbers for the last 12 months, people will see actually we beat expectations," he said.

Greens treasury spokesman Adam Bandt said the mooted tax cuts could mean the budget never returns to surplus.

"The government says it will get back to an early surplus, keep unfair tax breaks for the wealthy and reduce income taxes all at the same time," he said.

"It will have to cut services, lift other taxes or find a magic pudding."